Friday, November 16, 2007

Nearly Forty Years Later,
His Words Still Ring True

The day after Robert F. Kennedy was shot and killed in a Los Angeles hotel in June 1968, his brother's former aide and speechwriter, the distinguished Pulitzer-winning historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., delivered a college commencement speech. When I came upon an outtake of that address the other day, I was startled at how thoroughly contemporary the issues he discussed back then sounded now. He called Americans "the most frightening people on this planet...because the atrocities we commit trouble so little our official self-righteousness, our invincible conviction of our moral infallibility."

2 Comments:

At 4:29 PM, Blogger Scott said...

Great quote, John. I just finished listening to Gore Vidal's "The Golden Age," which addresses this theme of America-as-superpower. You can trace our rise to "world bully" status back to the Spanish-American War, when we took over Spain's holdings in the Pacific and suddenly became an empire (in fact, if not in name). American history over the last 100 years is essentially our struggle to reconcile the American ideal of personal freedom with our own failure to exercise responsibly the power that comes with being an economic and military behemoth.

I believe wholeheartedly that Americans -- as a people -- have always "meant well" when it comes to foreign policy. But how we managed to develop this inflated sense of self and moral infallibility (while finding ways to elect leaders who most certainly do NOT mean well) is a little beyond me.

 
At 8:24 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

It's beyond me, too, Scott. And Schlesinger, by the way, was no doubt mostly referring to the country's political leadership rather than to citizens generally. But of course it's the citizens who vote in these clowns, and who continue to stand by and at least tacitly accept their sins. So the moral stain comes off on all of us.

 

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